The truth about the Dark Tetrad

The truth about the Dark Tetrad

The truth about the Dark Tetrad

‘Come over to the Dark Side…’
Psychopathy, Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Sadism.

At least one of these terms will be familiar to us. Whether we have heard in the media, in a book or even feel like we may have met somebody who embodies these qualities.

But what do these terms actually mean?

Almost twenty years ago, Paulhus and Williams (2002) coined the term ‘Dark Triad’ to refer to a constellation of three socially offensive personality variables; Psychopathy, Narcissim and Machiavellianism. Everyday sadism has been added to the Triad (Buckels, Jones, & Paulhus, 2013), resulting in the creation of the Dark Tetrad. As a result, many negative personality traits, or ‘dark traits’ have become increasingly prominent concepts in related fields beyond psychology, such as criminology (e.g., Flexon, Meldrum, Young, & Lehmann, 2016) with researchers using this umbrella term to account for ethically, socially and morally questionable behaviour.

Research on the  Dark  Tetrad has been hampered by the fact that no four-factor measure has yet been published (Paulhus, 2020) however, here is what research tells us about the components of the Dark Tetrad.

This article is purely for educational purposes and is not designed for self- diagnosis. If you recognise any of these signs in yourself or somebody you know and need to access any support, then get in touch with us at My Family Psychology and see what we can do to help you.

What is Psychopathy?

Hare’s (2003) Factor 1 of Psychopathy was characterized by lack of guilt and empathy, shallow affect, glibness, failure to accept responsibility, manipulativeness, grandiosity, conning, lying), represents the shared characteristic of these traits (Paulhus, 2020).

By 2008, Hare and Neumann (2008) distinguished four dimensions of psychopathy:

  • Interpersonal (superficial charm, grandiose self-worth, pathological deception, and manipulative)
  • Affective (lack of remorse and empathy, shallow affect)
  • Antisocial conduct (poor behavioural control, criminal versatility, and juvenile delinquency),
  • Lifestyle (stimulation seeking, impulsivity, and irresponsibility)

As psychopathy has peaked interest over the last few decades, the more researchers have wanted to explore the traits associated with it and how people can tell who is a psychopath. Patrick et al. (2009), proposed another structure which encompasses three distinct phenotypic constructs: boldness, meanness, and disinhibition.

When we think of boldness, it represents interpersonal dominance, fearlessness, high self-confidence, and risk taking. Meanness represents callousness, lack of empathy, deliberate cruelty, shallow emotionality, and exploitativeness; disinhibition represents general problems with impulse control, poor self-regulation and failure in delaying gratification (Brislin et al. 2015; Patrick et al. 2009).

Studies have shown that individuals lacking in empathy, specifically violent offenders, display generally reduced automatic physiological arousal when confronted with distress-inducing cues (Pfabigan et al., 2015). Furthermore, psychopathy has been associated with extreme antisocial behaviours, violence, higher rates of incarceration, and increased likelihood of committing crimes (Anton, Baskin-Sommers, Vitale, Curtin, & Newman, 2012).

What is Narcissism?

Narcissism has been a term thrown around quite a lot and remains to be a hot topic, especially in the modern day era of social media and online dating. It is also term which appears to have many definitions; some narcissists will chose to be overt (and not shy away from that fact) or covert (will tend to hide behind a façade of charisma).

Unlike Psychopathy, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is diagnosable. The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) is questionnaire designed by Raskin and Hall (1979), which was meant to reflect the DSM-III (APA 1980) narcissistic personality disorder diagnostic criteria.

A model put forward by Ackerman et al.’s (2011) assumes the existence of the following:

  • Adaptive abilities such as Leadership/Authority (self-perceived leadership abilities)
  • Maladaptive traits such as Grandiose Exhibitionism, self-absorption, vanity and exhibitionistic tendencies.
  • Entitlement/Exploitiveness – entitled beliefs and manipulative behaviours) aspects of narcissism.

Behavioural traits associated with narcissism include a noticeable emphasis on one’s self in interactions with others, a distinct lack of empathy concerning the plight of others, extreme sensitivity often resulting in rage, manipulation with no consideration of cost, and a lack of ability to see reality as others see it (Thomas, 2010).

What is Machiavellianism?

Unlike narcissism and psychopathy, Machiavellianism does not have a clinical equivalent in either the DSM or ICD classifications. The trait Machiavellianism was named after Niccolò Machiavelli, who was a diplomatic senior official in Florentine Republic who wrote the book (Il Principe) in which he described how to be an effective ruler no matter at the cost (Rogoza, 2008)

The structure of Machiavellianism is somewhat unclear; however some of the traits include:

  • A cynical worldview (view of the negative world and view of people)
  • Manipulative and persuasive tactics.
  • Amorality
  • Lack of empathy
  • Agentic motives,
  • Self-enhancement (Christie and Geis 1970; Fehr et al. 1992; Jones and Paulhus 2009);
  • Self – interest (self-promoting and self-protecting)
  • Impulse control
  • Egocentricity
  • Low levels of remorse
  • Emotional detachment
  • Antisocial tendencies
  • Dominance and need for power.

Manipulation is one of the core elements of a Machiavellian personality power and individuals with high Machiavellianism are perceived as more intelligent and attractive by their peers, even when those perceptions are not reflective of real differences (Jakobwitz & Egan, 2006).

What is Sadism?

The term was coined by the late 19th-century German psychologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing in reference to an 18th-century French nobleman called the Marquis de Sade, who chronicled his own such practice by experiencing pleasure by inflicting pain on others.

In some cases the aggressive impulse becomes predominant and the sadist progresses to more extreme expressions of his violent tendencies. In the criminal psychology, sadism may be a factor in some violent crimes, particularly rape and murder. However, it was every day sadism which was added to form the ‘Dark Tetrad’.

Already  widely  used,  there are  stand-alone  measures which have been shown to predict instances of everyday sadism, including:

  • Enjoyment of violent video games (Greitemeyer & Sagio-glou, 2017)
  • Internet trolling (Buckels, Trapnell, Andjelovic, &Paulhus,2019; Buckels, Trapnell & Paulhus,2014),
  • Fascination  with  weapons (Gonzalez  &  Greitemeyer,2018)
  • Cyberstalking  (Smoker & March,2017)
  • Internet  bullying(Kircaburun, Jonason, & Griffiths,2018),
  • Revenge (Chester&DeWall,2018),
  • Toxic leadership (Spain, Harms, & Wood,2016)
  • Negative impressions (Rogers, Le, Buckels, Kim, &Biesanz,2018),
  • Mourning style (Lee,2019)
  • Sexual violence(Russell &King,2016),
  • Sadistic behaviour in the labora-tory  (Buckels  et  al.,2013;  Chester,  DeWall,  &  Enjaian,2019 (cited in Paulhus, 2020)

Sadism has been defined as cognitions and behaviours associated with pleasure from inflicting physical or emotional pain on another person (Porter & Woodworth, 2006).

 I hope you found this blog article an interesting read. If you enjoyed this article, then feel free to let us know what you thought in the comment box. We appreciate any feedback and want to hear how you are finding our blog posts.


American Psychiatric Association. (1980). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Anton, M. E., Baskin-Sommers, A. R., Vitale, J. E., Curtin, J. J., & Newman, J. P. (2012). Differential effects of psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder symptoms on cognitive and fear processing in female offenders. Cognitive Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, 12(4), 761-776.

Book, A., Visser, B.A., Blais, J., Hosker-Field, A., Methot-Jones, T., Gauthier, N.Y., Volk, A., Holden, R.R. and D’Agata, M.T. (2016). Unpacking more “evil”: What is at the core of the dark tetrad? Personality and Individual Differences, 90, pp.269–272.

Brislin, S. J., Drislane, L. E., Toney Smith, S., Edens, J. F., & Patrick, C. J. (2015). Development and validation of Triarchic psychopathy scales from the multidimensional personality questionnaire. Psychological Assessment, 27, 838–851. 

Buckels, E., Jones, D., & Paulhus, D. (2013). Behavioural confirmation of everyday sadism. Psychological Science, 24, 2201–2209. 

Dolan, M., & Fullam, R. (2004). Behavioural and psychometric measures of impulsivity in a personality disordered population. Journal Of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 15(3), 426-450

Hare, R. D. (2003). Manual for the Revised Psychopathy Checklist. Toronto, ON, Canada: Multi-Health Systems

Hare, R. D., & Neumann, C. S. (2008). Psychopathy as a clinical and empirical construct. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 4, 217–246.

Jakobwitz, S., & Egan, V. (2006). The dark triad and normal personality traits. Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 331-40.

Justice, A. (2016). Digital Commons @ ACU Electronic Theses and Dissertations Electronic Theses and Dissertations The Relationship of Empathy and Impulsivity to The Dark Tetrad of Personality. [online] Available at Digital Commons [Accessed 23 Aug. 2020].

‌Moshagen, M., Hilbig, B. and Zettler, I. (n.d.). The Dark Core of Personality. [online] Available at the American Psychology Association.  [Accessed 23 Aug. 2020]

Narcissism The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-V; American Psychiatric Association, 2013) defines criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

Patrick, C. J., Fowles, D. C., & Krueger, R. F. (2009). Triarchic conceptualization of psychopathy: Developmental origins of disinhibition, boldness, and meanness. Development and Psychopathology, 21, 913–938.

Paulhus, D,L; Buckels, E.E; Trapnell, P.D; and Jones, D.N (2020). Screening for Dark Personalities: The Short Dark Tetrad (SD4). European Journal of Psychological Assessment.

Pfabigan, D. M., Seidel, E., Wucherer, A. M., Keckeis, K., Derntl, B., & Lamm, C. (2015). Affective empathy differs in male violent offenders with high- and low trait psychopathy. Journal Of Personality Disorders, 29 (1), 42-61.

Porter, S., & Woodworth, M. (2006). Psychopathy and aggression. In C. J. Patrick (Ed.), Handbook of psychopathy (pp. 481–494). New York: Guilford Press.

Raskin, R., & Hall, C. S. (1979). The Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Psychological Reports, 45, 590.

Reidy, D.E., Zeichner, A., & Seibert, L.A. (2011). Unprovoked aggression: effects of psychopathic traits and sadism. Journal of Personality, 79, 75–100.

Rogoza, R. and Cieciuch, J. (2018). Dark Triad traits and their structure: An empirical approach. Current Psychology.

Thomas, D. (2010). Narcissism: Behind the mask. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

I hope you enjoyed the 'The truth about the Dark Tetrad' article.

If you are feeling pressured or need someone to speak to, contact My Family Psychologist for a confidential chat about how we may be able to help.

You can contact the My Family Psychologist Offices between 8 am and 8 pm to book an appointment.

Get in touch to see how we can help.

Scroll to Top